In the early Church, the canonical penances severe, grave sins, such as apostasy, were punished with a penance of seven years. During all this time the penitent was excluded from the company of the faithful. He knelt at the entrance of the church, asking for prayers of those that entered. He heard only the first part of the Mass, and was not permitted to receive Holy Communion. On fixed days during the period of his penance, he was obliged to fast on bread and water. But if those faithful interceded, the penitent was granted an indulgence; his penance was shortened.
A plenary indulgence is the remission of all the temporal punishment due to our sins. In this connection an act of resignation for the hour of death is of particular interest. For instance the Prayer Before a Crucifix has an indulgence of ten years; a plenary indulgence if recited after Communion; the Anima Christi an indulgence of 300 days; if recited after Holy Communion it carries a seven year indulgence; The short Act of Resignation to the Divine Will carries an indulgence of seven years and a plenary indulgence at the hour of death, for those who say the prayer on any day chosen, after Communion and Confession. Various simple ejaculation prayers also carry indulgences from 300 days to seven years. Many, many other prayers and devotions carry indulgences as well, all recorded in the Raccolta. Various Indulgenced Prayers and Objects will be covered next month.
One who dies immediately after gaining a plenary indulgence goes straight to Heaven, without having to pass through Purgatory.
The good thief was granted by Our Lord a plenary indulgence, because of his perfect contrition of heart. To the other thief he said that they were receiving what their deeds deserved. "And he said to Jesus, 'Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom.' And Jesus said to him, 'Amen I say to thee, this day thou shalt be with Me in paradise'" (Luke 23: 42-43).
If we should be unable to gain a plenary indulgence fully, by failure to fulfill all conditions exactly, we shall nevertheless gain the indulgence partially according to our dispositions. Unless otherwise expressly stated, a plenary indulgence can be gained only once a day, even if the prescribed work be performed a number of times.
The "usual conditions" ordinarily prescribed for gaining a plenary indulgence are: confession, Communion, a visit to a church or public oratory, and prayer for the intentions of the Pope. The "usual conditions" are required in addition to the works prescribed for the particular indulgence.
The confession required can be made within eight days immediately preceding the day to which the indulgence is appointed. The Communion may take place on the previous day. Both conditions, confession and Communion, may be satisfied on the day itself or within the following eight days.
Any number of indulgences may be gained by the application of the same confession or Communion, provided the other works prescribed are accomplished severally.
Persons who are accustomed to go to confession at least twice a month can gain all indulgences, even without the actual confession prescribed. Daily Communicants have the same privilege, even if Communion may chance not be received once or twice during a week. This exemption from confession, however, does not hold good for jubilee indulgences such as were available two years ago. For those a confession and Communion had to be offered each time a plenary indulgence was to be gained.
When a visit is prescribed for gaining an indulgence, the visit may be made from noon of the previous day up to midnight of the day appointed. In the case of those who may lawfully use this, such as religious in their own chapel, visits may be made to a semi-public oratory.
The "intentions of the Pope" usually refer to the welfare of the Church and religion. Unless otherwise stated, they include:
(a) the exaltation of the Church;
The requirement of prayer for the intentions of the Pope must be vocal, not mental, prayer. It is readily fulfilled by saying, in addition to the other works prescribed, one Our Father, one Hail Mary, and one Glory be to the Father.
(b) the uprooting of heresies;
(c) peace among Christian nations;
(d) the propagation of the faith; and
(e) conversion of sinners.
A partial indulgence is the remission of part of the temporal punishment due to our sins.
A partial indulgence is reckoned, like the public penitential discipline of old, in days and years. These periods of time must not be taken to mean a certain length of time in Purgatory. They only mean that as much temporal punishment is remitted which, in God's sight, would have been remitted in the early Church by a canonical penance of so many days or years.
For instance, when an indulgence of 300 days is granted, it does not mean to free a souls from 300 days' suffering in Purgatory. It merely indicates that as much temporal punishment may be remitted as would have been remitted in the early Church by a canonical penance of 300 days.
A no one knows how much the penances of old satisfied God's justice, so we cannot now know how much temporal punishment is remitted by the corresponding partial indulgence.
To gain an indulgence for ourselves, we must be in the state of grace, have at least a general intention of gaining the indulgence, and perform the works of the prescribed works. Therefore even if a person is in mortal sin, he can begin to gain an indulgence, unless the work prescribed requires the state of grace, as Holy Communion.
We must have the intention, at least in a general way, of gaining the indulgence. We do not gain an indulgence by accident, without wishing to gain one. It is well in our morning prayers to make a general intention to gain all the indulgences possible during the day. It is not necessary to express the intention each time an indulgence is to be gained.
We must perform the works required by the Church. We must comply exactly with the particular conditions required, according to the prescribed time, place, and manner. When vocal prayers are prescribed a a condition, the words must be pronounced with the lip, and not merely read or said mentally. However, indulgences attached to invocations or ejaculations can be gained by reciting them merely mentally.
Finally, the Pope alone has the authority to grant plenary indulgences and indulgences for the whole Church; archbishops and bishops can grant partial indulgences for their own dioceses. Priests with special faculties from the Pope may attach indulgences to objects they bless. All objects blessed by the Holy Father have the apostolic indulgences attached to them. They should not be sold for that purpose or escalated in price because of the attached indulgences.
For previous installments, see APPRECIATING THE PRECIOUS GIFT OF OUR FAITH Archives